Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds said that he has been “proving people wrong my entire life.”
What he did going back to his high school days outside Nashville, where he started every game for four years, and what he did in Annapolis, where he grew into a record-setting legend whose jersey number was retired, Reynolds will try to continue with the Ravens.
Reynolds was picked in the sixth round Saturday by the Ravens, who, because of his size (5-foot-10, 190-pounds) plan to use the most productive quarterback in Football Bowl Subdivision history as a slot receiver and punt returner.
“That’s what I’ve been working on, I’ve been running routes like crazy trying to get quicker with my routes, catching punts, everything they want me to do I’ve been working on,” said Reynolds, who has been tutored lately by former NFL all-pro returner Brian Mitchell, who also played quarterback in college.
Reynolds was being recruited as a quarterback only by Navy, Air Force and Wofford, and he wanted to go somewhere he could play the position. Now, in order to break the NFL, he’s open to moving to wide receiver.
“It’s a dream come true,” Reynolds said on a teleconference with reporters at the team’s facility in Owings Mills.
Asked to describe his emotions after hearing from Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, Reynolds said, “Relief, excitement. I was actually sitting by my phone thinking, ‘Man, why I am still around? I know I can play.’ I’m seeing guys go off the board, I’m saying, ‘I know I can play with these guys.’”
Apparently, so did the Ravens, who had scouted Reynolds periodically at Navy but got a closer look at him earlier this year at some of the practices leading up to the East-West Shrine Game.
“On Day 2, Eric [DeCosta, the team’s assistant general manager] said, ‘Are you really paying attention to Keenan Reynolds?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, he’s doing some things that are catching our eye.’ It’s just something we kept in the back our mind,” Newsome recalled Saturday.
DeCosta, who choked up talking about Reynolds, said the team kept their interest in the Navy star “very quiet,” knowing that others, in particular the New England Patriots, seemed set on choosing him in the later rounds.
When it came time to calling Reynolds, who was watching the draft unfold with family, friends, teammates and Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo at the home of his Navy sponsor, DeCosta suggested that Ravens officials in the team’s war room listen in on a speaker phone.
“It was a special moment,” Newsome said.
The moment resonated in Annapolis.
“It just couldn’t have been a better day for him and his family and friends and the Navy Brotherhood,” Niumatalolo said.
DeCosta said Reynolds’ ability running the ball in Navy’s triple option should translate to punt returns in terms of his ability to operate in tight spaces.
“That’s what we think,” DeCosta said of Reynolds, who will likely challenge Michael Campanaro (River Hill), among others “His shifty ability, his stop and start, his speed and accelleration and burst.”
Said Reynolds, “I just feel like my best area is in space with the football, being able to be able to move around in space is where I thrive. That’s where I’m going to find success at the next level.”
The only hitch could be if Reynolds can’t work out his post-graduate commitment with the Navy, which seems unlikely since one of his former teammates, center Joe Cardona, spent part of his rookie year with the New England Patriots, working at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I.
“Obviously being in the DMV area, that’s going to help my cause, but the call, that’s up for the Navy,” Reynolds said. “I’m hoping and praying and I’m confident that it will be the same type of situation [as Cardona] for myself.”
Reynolds said that he is hoping to get word in a matter of days.
Though Ravens coach John Harbaugh joked, “We’ve always been supporters of the military, just point that out,’ he added with a more serious tone “We can’t predict what they will do. It will be whatever’s in the best interest of the Naval Academy, the Navy and the nation. Obviously there’s a precedent. We’re hopeful, but whatever they do we’ll abide by and respect.”
Ironically, Reynolds will join the player who briefly overtook him for the FBS record of career touchdowns – Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon, who was picked in the fourth round – in rookie camp next weekend. Reynolds’ finished with 88 touchdowns, one ahead of Dixon.
Niumatalolo will be surprised if Reynolds, who set a school record with 32 wins, doesn’t make it in the NFL.
“I’ve said this many times, people say, ‘He can’t do this, he can’t do that,’” Niumatalolo said. “The kid’s amazing. It’well deserved. He’s going to a great organization from [owner Steve] Bisciotti to Ozzie to John, it’s first-class. Hard-nosed organization. I think it fits him well.”
Stepping on an NFL practice field will be the next step for a player who started watching game film with his father, a former college player at Tennessee-Martin (where he was a teammate of Giants general manager Jerry Reese) and high school coach, when he was not yet a teenager.
“I’ve been playing football for 17 years now,” said Reynolds. “All I ever wanted to do was play on Sundays and to be able to play on Sundays now for one of the most storied franchises in the league is a blessing…I’m just happy to be a part of the Ravens organization and I’m ready to get started.”